Educators who have participated in effective training sessions understand the foundational principles for creating quality classroom assessments: content and verb alignment between curriculum and assessment; selection of the appropriate types of assessment; “rules” for construction of test items; and administration and scoring guidelines. However, there are two stumbling blocks that many assessment writers seem to encounter when putting training into practice. Number one is, knowing what to do first. When writing an assessment for an outcome, there are often so many skills and concepts to be included that “where to start” creates a barricade that stops progress. The second problem is basically the opposite of the first: authors plunge right in, without any kind of road map for where they are headed. Then, when they get to the end, they find the assessment is too long, too sparse, or missing some parts. By then, they may be quite fond of some of their test items and find themselves unable to see any other way to approach those concepts or skills.
Several Curriculum Leadership Institute partner school districts have solved these problems by creating a table to use as a guide when first beginning the assessment writing process. Once all the columns and rows have been filled in, the table becomes the “road map” for creating the assessment. Another analogy is that the table guides creation of an assessment much like a blueprint guides creation of a building project. Assessment teams in these districts have found that if they start with the overall plan laid out, they have a clear picture of possible assessment issues before they get too “married” to any specific assessment items.
The following is a partial planning worksheet which is a synthesized version of the planning tables from several districts. Keep in mind that the worksheet can be modified by each group of assessment writers within a district, as long as the basics of alignment are maintained. Some assessment teams have added columns for such things as “Possible Writing Prompts” for constructed response questions, and “Possible Sources of Maps, Charts, etc.” for other assessment items. The categories may vary, but the important thing is to create a clear picture of the entire assessment before even the first item is written.